For decades, television commercials in and around the Los Angeles area during Christmas week would ask one question:
“What opens the day after Christmas?”
All horseplayers know the answer — Santa Anita!
The winter meet at Santa Anita used to lure many of the top horses based in New York, where turf racing has come to a halt until spring. While there are not as many east coast shippers these days, the success of the eastern shippers at the recent turf festival held over Thanksgiving weekend at Del Mar has made an impression.
Top trainers Chad Brown, Graham Motion, Steve Asmussen, Mike Maker, and Arnold Delacour have all shipped horses to participate in the six stakes races (five graded) opening day at Santa Anita.
Brown will start four horses Saturday, including potential lonely pacesetter Duopoly in the Grade I American Oaks. Asmussen brings Nashville to Santa Anita for the Grade I Malibu coming off a track record performance in the Perryville Stakes on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Keeneland.
Motion shipped 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf champion Sharing to Del Mar for the Grade I Matriarch Stakes, where she was beaten less than a length. Sharing returns to California and stretches out to 1 1/4 miles for the first time in the American Oaks.
The local contingent is headed up by the Bob Baffert stable, which sends out four runners in the Grade I La Brea and two horses, including the undefeated comebacking Arkansas Derby winner Charlatan, in the Malibu. Baffert also starts Mucho Gusto in the Grade II San Antonio Stakes as a prep for what is his primary early season goal — the 2021 Saudi Cup.
These are the ones, the ones that keep our traditions going. And even though you can’t be here for Opening Day Dec 26th, they will be. So when the time comes, we’ll be ready for you!
— Santa Anita Park (@santaanitapark) December 22, 2020
In addition to top class racing, Santa Anita will unveil their new turf chute that runs parallel to the seven-furlong dirt chute on the backstretch. The new chute will allow Santa Anita to card 6- and 6-1/2-furlong turf sprints in addition to the 5 1/2-furlong turf sprints. The new layout gets tested in Saturday’s sixth race when a full field of 12 Allowance horses break from the gate.
The wagering menu is similar to recent Santa Anita meets, with two $.50 Pick Fives, including the reduced 14 percent takeout Pick Five on the first five races.
The new $5 Golden Hour Daily Double and $1 Golden Hour Pick Four will return when Golden Gate, which has been shut down since Nov. 13 due to a rash a COVID-19 positives to backstretch workers, gets the OK to resume live racing. Both wagers involve races from both Santa Anita and Golden Gate.
Los Alamitos avoids closure
The L.A. County Fair meet at Los Alamitos benefited from the current shut down at Golden Gate Fields, as over 200 horses shipping to So Cal boosted the average field size from 6.97 per race in 2019 to 8.71 per race in 2020. The result was a huge increase in business, with handle on races run at Los Alamitos up 36 percent over last year and average daily handle expanding by 20 percent.
Despite the hugely successful daytime thoroughbred meet, Los Alamitos was nearly closed for good after the completion of Sunday’s races due to a ruling at Thursday’s California Horse Racing Board meeting that denied the one-year date license application by Los Alamitos for the 2020-2021 meet and instead approved a six-month license from December 26 to June 30.
The amended license was proposed by CHRB vice chairman Oscar Gonzales. CHRB chairman Greg Ferraro voted against the amended license proposal.
“I think we are making a mistake,” Ferraro said.
Dr. Ed Allred, owner of Los Alamitos, was on the conference call when the revised date application was proposed. His first reaction? “Don’t bother.”
Allred pointed out that sustaining payments throughout the year build the purses for important derbies and futurities, and they would be negatively impacted without any assurance that Los Alamitos would be racing throughout 2021.
After having some time to think things over, Allred gave the go ahead to take entries for racing under the lights this Saturday and Sunday while requesting the CHRB reconsider the track’s request for a year-long license.
If the CHRB does not change the license to a full year, Allred could opt to develop the extremely valuable property. If Los Alamitos is forced to close their doors for good, it would be a sad day for California racing.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita Saturday, Race 1: Rocking Redhead (No. 8). Filly from the Richard Baltas stable found what she wants to do when she stretched out around two turns and wired Maidens in last. Make her the one to catch and beat in the first race of the Santa Anita meet.